Orange chooses to preserve former Ewen Farm as open space

ORANGE - Residents approved the purchase of 43 acres of open space last week. The parcel, smack in the center of town on Lambert and Tyler City roads, has been on the open space acquisition list for decades.

The $4.3 million acquisition, Farm River Estates, was formerly known as the Ewen Farm.

The vote count was 1,246 in favor, and 1,061 against acquiring the land.

When the final numbers were read applause broke out in High Plains Community Center gymnasium.

First Selectman James Zeoli, who expressed emotion after the vote, said he was so happy because the residents finally got to decide the issue.

"It finally went to the people to decide and wasn't decided by one person," Zeoli said.

Zeoli said when Goldblatt was first selectman he refused to let the residents decide. Goldblatt has repeatedly stated the appraisals for the land never matched up.

"I'm overwhelmed," Zeoli said. "We could only get 600 people out to a $50 million town budget referendum, and we get 2,200 people out for this vote. This tells you how important of an issue open space is to the people of Orange."

Zeoli, who operates a farm on land connected to the Ewen Farm, said he grew up on the land the town is acquiring. He said Jim and Helen Ewen taught him how to be a farmer, and that he has known the Ewen family his entire life. He said the land should be preserved because of its incredible vistas.

"I have known this piece of property all my life and know what it can offer the town," Zeoli said.

"The developer will now work with the town as the process goes through the state funding channels," Zeoli said.

Goldblatt said he was "disappointed" with the results, but was pleased by the high turnout that was likely sparked by the "healthy debate," between him, Zeoli, and others.

"I wanted the property preserved, but not at this price," Goldblatt said. "We can only hope the legislators will help the taxpayers to fund this purchase."

The three Orange state legislators have already introduced a bill, HB 6584, for state funding for the parcel. Additionally residents have already approved $2 million in bonding for open space.

Democratic Selectman Joe Blake, who opposed the referendum, said he was not surprised by the results, and many people told him they would vote to acquire the land. Blake said he is happy the land will be preserved, and his only concern was the costs and that Richetelli will still be able to construct some homes.

Relatives of the Ewen family from outside of Connecticut sold the 66-acre parcel to Gary Richetelli and his Farm River Estates LLC Company in 2005 for $3.5 million. James and Sharon Ewen continue to operate their farm. Richetelli will keep a third of the land and is likely to construct seven to ten homes.

In questioning 10 voters shortly before the polls closed as they exited 9 out of 10 said they voted for the parcel because "it was the last chance for the parcel, we need to hold onto the land, preserve the rural feeling of the town, preserve the town as best we can, feel we should, protect the Indian river from further pollution, won't get it back once its gone, protect the downstream houses from additional water problems." Only one said "it was too expensive."

Brian McCready contributed to this story.